Beautiful Milia Beach on Alonissos island, Greece.

8 unforgettable Greek Island hopping routes

Planning a trip to the Greek Islands? You can compare ferries and book your tickets online through Ferryhopper.

With somewhere in the region of 6000 islands, Greece is a prime destination for a spot of island hopping. But where do you start? The Cyclades, the Sporades, the Dodecanese?

There are a few Greek Island hopping trips that stand out from the crowd when it comes to showcasing the very best that Greece has to offer. Here we take a look at the top Greek Island hopping routes from Athens, Thessaloniki, or even Turkey.

Plan to take at least 1-2 weeks for these itineraries, depending on how much time you'd like to spend on each island. If you want to take it slow and explore the islands in more depth, it's very easy to stay longer.

At a glance

Popular Greek Islands

Mykonos - Paros - Santorini

Known for white-washed houses with bright-blue window frames and doors, the islands of Paros, Mykonos and Santorini offer the quintessential Greek island hopping trip. They are the first on the list when it comes to which Greek Islands to visit, but that also means that they are some of the most popular as well as the most expensive.

The Cyclades are home to boutique hotels rather than large-scale resorts, and nowhere gets more upscale than the cave hotels of Oia in Santorini. Mykonos and Paros offer more variety when it comes to accommodation but expect to pay top rate in comparison to other islands - especially in peak season.

From Athens, head to Piraeus port to catch the ferry to Mykonos. Spend the evening or two exploring Mykonos’ lively town and restaurant scene, before visiting the 16th-century windmills and world-famous beaches the next day.

Then, head to the port of Mykonos early to embark on a fast ferry to Paros, taking under an hour. Paros is the most understated of the three islands, the main port Parikia is a typical Cycladic settlement with narrow cobblestone paths, old churches, and small shops full of local wares. Antiparos, the adjacent island, is a good place to take a day trip on your free day here.

Head back to the port of Parikia to embark on the Blue Star ferry over to Santorini. The journey takes around three and a quarter hours. The volcanic island of Santorini is known for its glorious Greek sunsets, outstanding wine-producing vineyards, and caldera hike.

There’s no shortage of beauty here, and all of the tourist traps are definitely worth visiting for the views alone. Explore Fira, the capital of Santorini, spend a sunset catching views over Oia, and make a trip to hike the volcano or bathe in the sulphur-rich waters.

If you have more time, you can take an overnight ferry from Santorini to Rhodes, then continue on to Turkey. Otherwise, Santorini has an international airport, so you can fly back to Athens or several other destinations in Europe.

The portara at the Temple of Apollo, Naxos

Cyclades island hopping itinerary

Naxos - Syros - Tinos

There are 33 Cycladic Islands that are officially inhabited, so there are many more options than the Paros, Mykonos, and Santorini route. Barren and wild, the Cyclades are dry and rocky islands with little vegetation.

There are no big cities, just small waterside towns and hilltop villages to explore. Beaches vary between white sand and volcanic rock, but there are always ample opportunities for swimming in shallow and protected bays.

Start your Greek Island hopping trip from the port of Piraeus in Athens on a 5.5-hour ferry to Naxos (or a 3.5-hour fast boat with Seajet). It’s the largest and greenest island of the Cyclades, with a family-friendly atmosphere, long sandy beaches, and interesting mountain villages to stroll around. Spend the evenings exploring Venetian Chora, the main hub of the island, with its seafront restaurants and plenty of opportunities for shopping.

From Naxos, it’s just an hour by Seajet to Syros and the second island on this itinerary. The capital of the island chain has no resemblance to the sugar-cubed houses that made the Cyclades popular. Instead, the main town of Ermoupoli is home to neoclassical mansions in pastel shades that wouldn’t look out of place in southern Spain or Havana.

Spend your time here exploring the restaurants of Vaporia or learning more on a walking tour of the town. On your free day, head to Galissas Beach and get amazing views from the little church of Agia Pakou.

The last island to visit is just a 30-minute ferry ride away. Tinos is best known for the church of Panagia Evangelistria, a site of pilgrimage for many. On your free day, visit the twin beaches of Kolymbithra, popular with Instagrammers for its sustainable beach bars and surfer crowd.

Just 15 minutes away is the village of Volax, with its unusual granite boulders and traditional basket-weavers it's the perfect place to lose yourself in for a few hours.

A windmill on the cliff in the village of Oia, Santorini

The romantic Greek Islands

Santorini - Folegandros - Milos

This island-hopping route includes some of the most romantic islands in the Cyclades. You can start your trip in Athens, where there are several options for taking a ferry to Santorini, with journey times ranging from five to nine hours. Alternatively, you can fly directly to Santorini.

For the ultimate romantic break stay in the cave houses of Oia. Many come with private pools and outstanding sunset views. Spend your time visiting vineyards, exploring quiet beaches and Akrotiri in the south, or relaxing at Lioyerma Lounge Cafe Pool Bar. When you're ready to move on, the ferry from Santorini to Folegandros takes just under 3 hours (or 50 minutes by Seajet).

Folegandros retains its authentic charm, with few visitors, and basic settlements joined by a single paved road. It’s the perfect place to hide away for a romantic escape after the hustle and bustle of Santorini.

At just over 32 square kilometres, it’s possible to walk the island in around three hours. Base yourself in the main port of Karavostasis for authentic local tavernas, boutique hotels, and boat tours to explore the island’s secluded beaches.

You can catch the ferry from Folegandros to Milos in just under two and a half hours. Visit the indigo waters of Sarakiniko beach, take a boat tour to the pirate cove of Kleftiko, and explore picturesque fishing villages like Klima and Firopotamos.

This Cycladic gem is well known for its lunar landscapes and exotic beaches, making it the perfect romantic getaway and end to your time in the Greek Islands.

People swimming in a cove in Rhodes, Greece.

Dodecanese Island hopping itinerary

Rhodes - Kos - Leros - Astypalea

Closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, the Dodecanese Islands are easily accessed by taking a one-hour flight from Athens to Rhodes. There are ferries available from Turkey and other Greek Islands too.

Rhodes is the largest of the islands, and there’s plenty to do here, including visiting the UNESCO-listed Old Town, the village of Lindos and its ancient Greek ruins, and national parks and hiking routes throughout the island.

Just a 2-hour ferry ride away, Kos is the second most popular Dodecanese Island to visit. It’s now making a name for itself in sustainable tourism in Greece. With thousands of bikes left here after the Second World War, Kos has become Greece’s ‘Cycling Island’ - it helps that it's fairly flat and easy to get around too. Some top sights include the ancient centre of Asklepieion, Neratzia Castle, the ancient Greek Agora, and Antimachia Castle.

The small island of Leros is another hour and a half north by ferry. It offers a chance to explore authentic Greek villages like Agia Marina with its important flour mill.

There’s also the medieval fortress at Pandeli, the neoclassical architecture of Lakki, and the relaxed and welcoming Alinda. The island is also home to amazing coral reefs and shipwrecks, making it a prime spot for scuba diving.

Head back to Kos to catch the 4-hour ferry to Astypalaia (Astypalea) Island. Leading the way in sustainable tourism in Greece, butterfly-shaped Astypalaia has replaced over 1500 cars with 1000 electric vehicles and plans to go fully renewable in the near future. Visitors are rewarded for getting off-the-beaten-track with bougainvillaea-filled villages, tranquil beaches like Kaminakia, and valleys filled with citrus groves and vineyards.

The famous shipwreck on Zakynthos Island, Greece.

The classic Ionian Island hopping itinerary

Corfu - Paxos - Kefalonia - Zakynthos

Over on the western side of Greece, the Ionian Islands sometimes get overlooked by visitors to Athens. But winter rains mean these islands are much lusher with vegetation than those in the Aegean, as well as boasting turquoise bays and deep azure seas. The Ionians are made up of seven main islands, including Corfu, Zakynthos, Paxos, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaki, and the more remote and rugged Kýthira.

Start your Ionian Island hopping itinerary in Corfu - the international airport and regular ferry links to the mainland mean it’s the ideal place to kick off your adventure. With a history that includes Venetians, English, French and Russian settlers, Corfu Old Town is a treasure trove of cultures and distinct architectures.

Visit the Palace of St Michael and St George, Liston Arcade, and the medieval alleyways of Campiello. In fact, the whole town is like an open-air museum, while the rest of the island offers stunning beaches like Canal d'Amour, hidden monasteries, and mouth-watering Mediterranean cuisine. And, if you need more adventure, you can even take a day trip to Albania.

An hour's ride on the Flying Dolphin hydrofoil will take you to Paxos (Paxi). A small island of 76 square kilometres, Paxos is home to a population of just 2,300 people. Arrive in Gaios, the main port and capital of the island, and make your way to the beautiful swimming spots on the neighbouring island of Antipaxos.

From Paxos, it’s a 7-hour ferry ride to the next stop, Kefalonia. It’s the biggest Greek Island in the Ionian Sea, and a paradise for nature lovers with underground caves, picturesque fishing villages, and natural landscapes that are perfect for hiking. Its long-standing popularity with visitors can be attributed to its idyllic beaches backed by towering cliffs like Petani, Xi, Skala and Makris Gialos.

Another 3-hour ferry journey south will take you to Zakynthos, also known as Zante, which also offers flights (and ferries) to Athens. The island is well known for the southern party towns of Laganas - popular with stag and hen parties, but it’s also home to the world-famous Navagio (Shipwreck) beach and the endangered sea turtle species Caretta Caretta.

Defined by its fine white sand beaches and emerald bays, Zante is about as close to a tropical paradise as you can get in Europe. Zakynthos Town offers plenty of historical sights and hidden gems to explore too.

Donkeys waiting at the port in Hydra

Island hopping near Athens

Aegina - Poros - Hydra - Spetses

You don’t need to venture too far from Athens to get a taste of Greek island hopping. In fact, Aegina is just a 40-minute ferry ride from Piraeus in the beautiful Saronic Gulf. The Saronic Islands are perfect for day trips from Athens, weekend breaks, or even longer island-hopping holidays if you want to skip the longer ferry journeys.

Aegina is a family-friendly island that’s a popular spot with Greeks for summer holidays, and it’s easy to see why. With archaeological monuments like the temple of Aphaia, picturesque villages, and beautiful beaches, it offers many of the same attractions as islands that lie further afield. For beach resorts, Agia Marina is the most popular, while Souvala, and Marathon offer a little more seclusion.

Alternatively, Poros is just one hour by ferry from Athens. This quaint island's main port is lined with sailing boats from across the world, creating a friendly and diverse atmosphere.

The shops and tavernas are well set up for visitors, and accommodation rentals are often perched on the hillside, offering stunning views of the bay below. Apagio Taverna is one of those places that you visit once and can’t help but return to again and again. Carafes of local wine and affordable meze plates mean every meal is an indulgent affair.

From Poros, it's just a 25-minute ferry ride to Hydra, making it an easy day trip or multi-island stay. Built around a steep-sided harbour, Hydra’s port town is a car-free maze of cobblestone alleyways. With whitewashed bougainvillaea-houses, donkeys and cats around every corner, and small fishing boats lining the harbour, Hydra is every bit as beautiful as any island in the Cyclades.

Another short 30-minute ferry hop away is the cosmopolitan island of Spetses, a long-time favourite escape for high society. Expect to find elegant cafes, art galleries and stylish boutiques. Days are spent sipping coffees in Dapia whilst taking in views of Kosta and Porto Heli on the mainland opposite. This is another island where the use of cars is restricted, and horse-drawn carriage is the preferred way to explore the island's gourmet food scene by night.

A pretty street lined with flowers in Rhythmno, Crete

The route to Crete

Sifnos - Paros - Crete

It’s a long way to Crete from Athens, so why not break up the journey with some Cycladic gems? Catch the ferry from Athens to Sifnos in around 5 hours (or 2.5 hours by Seajet).

Located in the western part of the Cyclades, Sifnos is a laid-back island popular with couples as well as families. It’s filled with authentic Cycladic architecture, around 300 churches, and some of the best cuisine in the Cyclades.

Famous as the home of the Greek chef Nikolaos Tselementes, Sifnos is filled with top-rate tavernas and eateries in villages like Kastro, Artemonas and the capital town Apollonia.

From here, it’s only an hour's boat ride to Paros, one of the popular Cycladic Islands. Paros blends the old and new, a rich history and architecture mixed with a vibrant cultural scene and busy nightlife in places like Parikia and Naoussa.

The open natural landscapes and 120 km of golden-sand coastline add to the appeal, making it a great alternative to Santorini or Mykonos. Spend your days relaxing in secluded bays, visiting traditional villages like Lefkes and Marpissa, or photographing fishing boats in the main harbour.

It takes around 4 hours by ferry to get to Heraklion, Crete, from Paros. The largest Greek Island, Crete, is very different from any other island on this list and needs a good amount of time to explore fully - Heraklion is the 4th largest city in Greece, after all.

The island is home to one of Europe’s oldest civilisations, the Minoans, as well as Venetian architecture, idyllic beaches, and a unique food scene. Top spots to visit include Chania, Rethymnon, Agios Nikolaos, the stunning Balos Lagoon and the vast Samaria Gorge.

The beautiful beach of Panormos on Skopelos island, Greece.

Sporades Island hopping from Thessaloniki

Skiathos - Skopelos - Alonissos

If you’re starting your trip from Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki, the Sporades Islands are just a stone's throw away. The ferry from Thessaloniki to Skiathos takes just over 3 hours across the Northern Aegean Sea past epic sights like Mount Olympus.

Skiathos is the most developed island in the Northern Sporades, often referred to as the ‘new Mykonos’. With over 60 beaches like Koukounaries and Lalaria, there’s enough room for everyone.

Young crowds flock to Skiathos to enjoy water sports and the summer beach party scene, while families head to cultural attractions like the Bourtzi Venetian fortress, medieval castles, and hillside monasteries. The 197 km long hiking trail network also makes it a great place for nature lovers.

Jump on the 1-hour ferry from Skiathos to Skopelos, a less-developed island filled with lush green pine forests and deep-blue bays. It's best known as a filming location for the musical movie Mamma Mia, and visitors can head to the church of Agios Ioannis in Kastri where the wedding scenes were shot.

Gorge on fresh fish and handmade cheese pies in local tavernas, explore one of the palm-fringed pebble beaches, and visit the hillside village of Glossa in the north of the island.

Another 30-minute ferry will take you from Skopelos to Alonissos. An absolute must for nature lovers, the Marine National Park of Alonissos has a total area of 2,260 square kilometres that’s been protected since the 1970s.

Many visitors choose to volunteer or support the local conservation work by taking a boat tour to see the endangered monk seals and the four species of dolphins that live here. Alinossos remains peaceful even during the high season, with a relaxed small island vibe and ample snorkelling and diving opportunities at Greece’s first underwater museum.

Share this article

Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 6 May 2024

Chora village and the old harbour of Astypalea island in Greece


In many ways, Greece is the perfect holiday destination. From white, sandy beaches and clear waters to amazing food and historical sites, Greece has you covered.